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What You Never Knew About The Billionaire Behind Fortnite

In the past several years, Epic Games has undeniably become one of the biggest names in the video game industry. Simply being the company behind the unstoppable battle royale juggernaut that is Fortnite would be enough to cement any company's legacy, but Epic has accomplished so much more than just that. Among other things, Epic also created the Unreal Engine, which powers all of the company's internally-developed titles and has been used in multiple Hollywood productions, as well.


In August 2020, it was reported that the company was valued at roughly $17.3 billion. While Epic Games continues to grow in popularity and profitability, it all had to start somewhere. Behind all of that is the man who has been with the company from the very beginning: Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney. Sweeney is one of the most prominent examples of a video game creator who was made incredibly rich thanks to a particularly successful title. Still, there's more to Sweeney than just Fortnite. Although Sweeney is very much a public figure, there are a few facts that you may not know about the guy who put Epic on the map.

Tim Sweeney was inspired by family

In an interview with Gamasutra, Sweeney explained that one of the biggest influences for him at the beginning of his career was seeing how his older brother worked. He recalled visiting his brother at various start-up companies when he was very young. Sweeney said that this is how he learned, "You could have fun between companies doing different projects. So that really was a big influence on me in deciding to start a company."


The family connections didn't stop there, however. According to Medium, when Tim Sweeney launched Potomac Computer Systems, the company that would eventually become Epic Games, he did so operating out of his parents' basement. Although Sweeney hadn't completely finished college, he had enough know-how to begin making a game all on his own.

The very first game produced by Sweeney was called ZZT. According to a 1992 newsletter from Epic (archived via Museum of ZZT), the game was given that name because it would end up being the last listing in catalogues and message boards. This clever titling marked the beginning of a long history of brilliant marketing for the Epic brand.

It all started with ZZT

ZZT was a crude game by today's standards, but was still a pretty impressive title to be programmed alone by an amateur game designer in 1991. The player character must get through a series of dungeons with various enemies dogging them every step of the way. According to the original manual, players could collect bullets and other power-ups to help them in their quest. While the game proved to be popular with early PC gamers, it also gained attention for the various level editors created and distributed for the game. Much like Fortnite many years later, gamers embraced doing some building of their own in the playground that Sweeney made for them.


Sweeney originally published the game through the Potomac Computer Systems company name. However, as Sweeney explained to GamasutraZZT became an unexpected success, which would lead to Sweeney changing the company name to Epic Megagames, and then eventually to Epic Games.

Still, Tim Sweeney's father, Paul, continued to fulfill orders for ZZT until 2013, mailing them out on floppy discs with an "Epic Classics" label. In other words, it seems as though Sweeney never really forgot where his company came from.

Sweeney is charitable, but apparently not political

According to Forbes, Tim Sweeney's net worth was estimated to be around $5.3 billion in September 2020. While Epic Games has made him a very wealthy man, he gives back to causes that speak to him personally. The News & Observer has called Sweeney "one of North Carolina's most prolific conservationists." Over the years, Sweeney has spent millions of his own fortune to help preserve such places as the Box Creek Wilderness in North Carolina. According to The Gamer, Sweeney has bought somewhere around 40,000 acres of land in an effort to help preserve these natural habitats.


Despite these philanthropic efforts, Sweeney stated in early 2020 that video game companies steer clear of making political statements. He eventually attempted to clarify these controversial comments, without much success.

The clearest explanation he's given is, "I just don't feel it's appropriate for one person ...  to draw their company and its employees into their personal politics outside of the company's mission." However, as Polygon pointed out, it's hard to match that stance up with Sweeney's very public charity work. Overall, it seems Tim Sweeney is a bit more complex than some fans may have realized.